Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Cleverness of Hare Krishnas

Halifax is an interesting city. It's a small sized city (relatively) that is quietly growing beyond the white 'hipster', indie music, art school population.

One of these moments of surprise is the continuous presence of those who are part of the 'International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON or Hare Krishnas) on Spring Garden Road.

My first experience with Hare Krishnas, being the small fishing village girl, was while living in Montreal. I was on the bus on Saint Laurent one summer weekend afternoon when I heard drums. Looking out the dingy bus window I saw at least a dozen dancing, smiling, singing persons dressed in every shade of orange and yellow imaginable hopping and singing their way down the sidewalk. I pressed my ear against the window to hear what they were singing and heard 'Hare Krishna' which I now recognize from Krishna Das's kirtan songs played in yoga classes.

I took a quick peak around to see if anyone else on the bus was as amazed as I was, and realized yet again that my village mouse was showing. This parade of joyous, loud drumming orange mass wasn't phasing anyone but myself.

Fast forward three years to when Andrew and I moved back to Halifax and I had practiced a whole lot more of yoga so all of a sudden Hare Krishna has much more meaning.

Walking down Spring Garden or Barrington Street you may be surprised at the quantity of people who are vying for your attention. Whether it's Amnesty International, The Red Cross or even those who live on the streets. Maritimer's in general are not very good at ignoring people (as I learned while in Montreal) so perhaps Halifax is the perfect place to gather support.

No one is better at this gathering of attention, however, than the Hare Krishnas. I am in awe of their cleverness, seriously. There are always at least two, three and sometimes four Hare Krishnas, happy in orange, smiling and spreading the word of Krishna on Spring Garden. For Halifax, anything other than Christian is quite the event. Even the presence of the Shambala Centre runs under the radar for the majority of 'typical Haligonians' (for example, my co-workers who have lived in Halifax-Dartmouth all their lives had no idea of the Buddhist community in Halifax).

I actually had to stop and stare as I observed one orange-clad monk cheerfully stuck his hand out for a handshake to those who passed him by. I felt like clapping. How clever is that? I would never be able to resist the social urge to shake someone's hand like that (and like I said, many Maritimer's are generally more friendly than other big cities). I've also heard them ask people if they practice yoga, as they're plunked right outside of the Lululemon. Smart.

Today a happy monk noticed my books I was clutching to myself. As per usual I responded to his hello and eye contact with my own and this is what ensued:

"Do you like books?"
Me, thinking he said 'can I look at your books?' responded: "Pardon?"
He takes a step forward: "Do you like books?"
Me: "Ah, yes I do! Thanks!" Start to turn away
Him: "Here I have some books here you could look at!" starts handing the book
I'm walking away: "Oh no thank you! I have enough books, thank you!" 
I practically run into the nearby building.

It's silly really, I could have simply stopped and said: "Actually I have my own strong faith, thank you" or chatted for a few minutes... but I didn't dare. I didn't want to get roped into saying no and feeling guilty, or into a discussion that would just be awkward at best on the sidewalk.

But DARN if that wasn't a clever way in.

(Peeps, tomorrow we're off for a whole weekend of minimal to NO internet access! Hence the books. No posting until next week! I hope you all have a beautiful long weekend!)


  1. Hmm....I find it intriguing that you are so interested in the Hare Krishnas but ran away from them. Even if you have your own beliefs, why the need for such separation? Just curious, of course, no judgement!

  2. I am a Maritimer but I'm pretty good at avoiding chatting people with when I'm walking down the street. Maybe it's just because I'm an introvert. I just want to get to where I'm going. If someone says hi I'll say hi back but that's about it. Just the way I am. The Hare Krishnas stand outside my work so I see them usually on my way out at the end of the day.

    The other day I was asked 3 times to stop and chat by the the Amnesty International people, within a 5-10 minute span. I actually used to be a monthly donor, but I think that's a bit much.

    I realize this all makes me sound like I'm unfriendly but I'm not, just not sociable.

  3. @Karuna: I've thought a bit about this: There are many reasons at play.
    I am curious, but not in the 'I'm curious about your religion from a spiritual standpoint' but more of a curious from an academic standpoint. Just as I'm curious about all religions that are different.
    For this reason it feels wrong to sit and chat about Krishna with someone who's purpose at that moment is to actively convert me. It would feel dishonest because I know in the end I will say- 'wow that is interesting, I'm Pagan, have a nice day'.
    Another factor- I don't like being surprised into these discussions. They are personal and serious and deserve a bit more thought. The street is an uncomfortable place to discuss it.
    Finally- I actually do have things to do.

    Hope that helps clarify!

    @Melissa: ah yes- I agree with you there (and envy you!) Having lived in Montreal, (and with many friends from Toronto) I can say that in general Maritimers are friendlier. Just the fact that you say 'hi' is WAY more than any Torontonian or Montrealer will do.
    But I agree, I don't like being accosted a zillion times to donate money- It doesn't feel comfortable.

  4. I really like the honesty. I never really knew why I didn't like being approached in the street...but I think it is because it's an uncomfortable place to think or discuss. If it's rude to discuss religion at dinner, what makes people think to do it randomly on the sidewalk?? Hmmm.


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